Crimes against Dalits rise as biases in the police, judiciary and government prevail

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The NCRB data on atrocities against Dalits shows weak implementation of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act amidst a surge in crimes

Dhruva Prasad | May 05 2021

As the pandemic-induced new normal manifests itself in the country, nothing has changed for India’s underprivileged classes. According to National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ), caste-based crimes and atrocities have continued unabated even during lockdowns. From police brutality to the government’s nonchalance towards daily wage earners who largely hail from marginalised communities, Dalits find themselves under siege from every section of society. 

As the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) hasn’t yet released the figures for 2020, data from 2019 is testament to a sordid tale. The horrific gangrape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman by four upper-caste men in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras last year in September is emblematic of the fate of the lower-castes in India. As per NCRB data, between 2014 and 2019– the Modi-government’s first term– crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes rose by over 4.5 percent. The incidence of crimes against SCs rose by 13.69 percent over the same period. 

The year 2019 saw the highest year-on-year spike in crimes against SCs and STs since the ascendancy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. While crimes against SCs saw an uptick of 7.34 percent, incidences of atrocities against STs shot up by a whopping 26.48 percent. This is despite the enactment of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill in 2018 that reinstated deterrent provisions such as arrest of the accused without approval and registration of a First Information Report (FIR) without preliminary enquiry. 

Data from the NCRB indicated that the safety of SC and ST women also experienced a downward trend. The number of crimes against SC/ST women swelled from 8486 in 2014 to 11025 in 2019, signalling an increase of almost 30 percent. Rapes constituted the largest crime and grew by over 45 percent between 2014 and 2019. In 2019, rapes against SC/ST women accounted for 14.34 percent of all rapes in India. The same year, Smriti Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development, released details of the Nirbhaya Fund, which showed that States and Union Territories had utilized only 8.7 percent of the funds allocated to them to enhance the safety and security of women. 

Moreover, in rape cases against SC/ST women, 33 percent of the victims were minors (aged below 18 years). This was more than double the share of minors in total rape cases (15.4 percent) across the country in 2019, pointing to the increased vulnerability of Dalit female children. 

Data on caste composition of police forces across states, compiled in the Status of Policing in India Report 2019 showed that Uttar Pradesh had the lowest representation of SCs in its police force. Only 40.2 percent of the posts reserved for SCs were occupied and high-ranking SC police officers comprised just 8.1 percent of all commissioned posts in the force, lower than the already- below-par national average of 11.5 percent. 

Concurrently, the state has topped the list of states with most crimes against SCs since 2014. In 2019, the State reported 11829 crimes, with Rajasthan second on the list with 6794 incidents. Uttar Pradesh also had one of the lowest representation of women in the police, at 4.1 percent. The State consistently registers the highest number of crimes and rapes against SC women, which have risen 27 percent between 2014 and 2019. 

Uttar Pradesh also had one of the lowest utilizations of the Nirbhaya Fund, consuming only 3.29 percent of the 120 crores allotted to it. 

The ineffective delivery of justice to the SCs and STs is also a matter of concern and suggests inherent biases in the police force and the judiciary. Crimes against SCs and STs are registered either under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act only or in conjunction with the Indian Penal Code (IPC) when murder, rape, etc., are involved. 

Conviction rates for crimes under PoA Act in conjunction with IPC are 32.1 percent and 26.4 percent of SCs and STs, respectively. Both figures are significantly lower than the all-India conviction rate of 50.4 percent. 

In the case of atrocities booked under the PoA Act alone, conviction rates for crimes against SCs and STs drop even lower to 28.2 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively. According to a report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), ignorant police personnel who demand explicit details about the nature of the crime and the castes involved from hesitant victims severely compromise the investigation process. “Wherever the Atrocities Act is not used properly, it is because there is no knowledge, no strength, so it has failed. It is a tool. On its own it will not be implemented,” says Vivek Pandit, a Maharashtra-based Dalit-rights activist. 

Low conviction rates also reflect the casteist biases of the police, as 50 percent of cases registered under the Act do not even go to court, according to a study by the Economic and Political Weekly. To point further to the complacency of law-enforcement agencies, 23.63 percent cases were deemed true but dismissed on the basis of inadequate evidence. 

However, the police have shown more alacrity than the judiciary in disposing cases. While the pendency percentage for the police is 28.42 percent, the figure for the judiciary is as high as 93.56 percent. It also doesn’t help that central funds released for the implementation of the PoA Act have fallen by almost 20 percent amidst increasing incidences of crimes. “Even when cases are registered, there is no court to try them. No cases have gone to trial, so there are no convictions. Aside from paltry amounts from the prime minister’s relief fund, no compensation is given in the registered cases,” NGO activist Bharathan says.